2018 is a very special year for Madame Lalou Bize-Leroy, a trailblazer, an icon that many refer to as the Queen of Burgundy. On the 6th of July at her domaine in Vosne-Romanee, she celebrated the 150th anniversary of the founding of Maison Leroy and 30 years of being a biodynamic producer at Domaine Leroy. Madame Bize-Leroy started in the wine business in 1955 when she joined her father at Maison Leroy, a Burgundy negociant company founded by her great grandfather Francois Leroy in 1868.
Through the decades Maison Leroy developed the enviable reputation for sourcing and identifying the greatest Burgundy wines from small growers farming top vineyards. The wines under the Maison Leroy label often perform above their classification and are defined by their concentration and intensity. Madame Bize-Leroy learned very quickly from her father Henri Leroy, and became one of the best tasters in the business with the ability to sniff out the best barrels, the best wines and identify potential greatness in nascent Burgundies.
One of the most significant transactions in Burgundy occurred in 1942, when Bize-Leroy’s father, Henri Leroy, purchased 50% of the shares of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti (DRC) from Jacques Chambon. Since then, DRC has been equally owned by the de Villaine and the Leroy families. Henri Leroy devoted himself to DRC while also managing the negociant company. Eventually both the management of Maison Leroy and also DRC was handed over to Madame Bize-Leroy – by 1971 she was President-Director General of Maison Leroy and from 1974 until 1992 she was co-manager of DRC. She left her management role at DRC in 1992 due to disagreements with the board about the distribution of DRC wines.
Madame Bize-Leroy focused her energy from 1992 onwards to Maison Leroy as well as her own two domaines: Domaine Leroy with 22 hectares and Domaine d’Auvenay with less than 4 hectares, both established in 1988. At these two domaines, biodynamic viticulture was employed from the start, much before it became trendy in Burgundy. Madame Bize-Leroy also believed in extremely low yields, employed a unique training and strict pruning policy and always replanted individual plants. It is easy to spot her vineyards with their wild Medusa-like vines whose canes are never cut or hedged and low-hanging small grape clusters that are small and quite sparse compared with her neighbors.
The wines are just as unique as her vineyards and to taste them is a special experience. On July 6th 2018, Madame Bize-Leroy pulled out wines from her cellar dating back to 1937. The small, privileged group who were invited were treated to flights of some of the greatest Burgundy wines that were ever crafted. There were 31 different wines, some from Maison Leroy, some from Domaine Leroy as well as from Domaine d’Auvenay.
The wines were still brimming with energy despite their age and granted most were grand cru wines, the vitality and energy of the wines were impressive. Even the 1937 Corton was still intense, very much alive and delicious. All 31 wines were special and exceptional in their structure and quality. The wines that moved me the most and were truly outstanding included the following wines: 1937 Maison Leroy Chambertin Grand Cru, 1945 Maison Leroy Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru,1947 Maison Leroy Romanee-Saint-Vivant Grand Cru, 1999 Domaine Leroy Richebourg Grand Cru, 2010 Domaine d’Auvenay Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru, 2010 Domaine Leroy Chambertin Grand Cru.
What surprised me the most in this memorable tasting was the aging potential and majestic stature of the mature white wines. I have tasted many amazing red Burgundies from the 1940s and 1930s but not many great old white wines. The two flights of white wines dating back to 1945 and 1949 were never recorked or reconditioned and their intensity and vivacity simply defy time. The following wines were the most incredible white wines I have ever tasted:
1. Maison Leroy Meursault Les Narvaux 95 Points
This gorgeous Meursault has transformed into a buttery, creamy sensual gold-colored beauty. Taking a whiff of its burnt butter and toasted brioche bread notes leaves you salivating for what it may reveal on the palate. And the palate does not disappoint with its generosity, sweet lush palate and a long finish.
2. 1949 Maison Leroy Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru 98 Points
Layers of sweet dried tropical fruits and dried flowers grabs you from the start; the palate is refined, linear and delicately layered with dried mangos, honey and white truffles. The wine reveals more with time as it continues to evolve and change in the glass – this is an exceptional, intense white wine that is awe-inspiring in how it has managed to defy time.
3. 1945 Maison Leroy Meursault Premier Cru Les Genevrieres 97 Points
How can a 73 year old white wine be so intense, youthful and focused after all these years? Tasting this wine is a unique experience, the nose is intense and vibrant while the palate offers concentrated butterscotch, sweet apricot and dried flower flavors that linger for up to a minute on the finish. A superb, moving white wine.
4. 1945 Maison Leroy Meursault Premier Cru Les Perrieres 92 Points
A delicate beauty that is starting to fade, but there is still a core sweetness with layers of dried herbs, dried flowers and a toffee finish. Lacy and gentle, this fading beauty was likely better a few decades ago. This bottle has never been reconditioned or recorked – a testament to the superb cellar conditions at Maison Leroy.
5. 1945 Maison Leroy Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru 100 Points
This is the most incredible bottle of aged white wine that I have ever tasted – a wine that touches you with its layers of toasted nuts, sweet butter and honeyed, creamy palate. This bottle, which has never been recorked/reconditioned straight from Madame Leroy’s cellars, is a masterpiece that has defied time – intense, long, layered, alive and energetic with a salty, minerally finish. Superb unforgettable wine!